APA Convocation Speech:
It is hard to believe that four years has come and gone so quickly. I never expected that I would be here talking about my Asian Pacific American experience. When I first came into college, APA classes were not even on my radar. I came to ASU with a mission. I was going to sacrifice the next four years of my life to study hard and make good grades. I wanted to be a doctor, so I did pre-med; and if that didn’t work out, my back up plan was my major – bioengineering. Before I even arrived in college, I had my next five to ten years carefully crafted. However, when I finally got here, I had a huge reality check. I soon realized early on that being a doctor or an engineer wasn’t really the direction I wanted to go in my life. I was just doing it because I thought it was what was expected of me.
I had a huge transformation, and I ended up switching my major to Religious Studies and started taking APA classes. What drew me to APA was a class taught by Professor Guevarra, who eventually became my thesis director. He taught a class on the Filipino American experience. This class was a catalyst to find out more about myself and the issues of the APA community. I ended up writing my honors thesis on Filipino Christian Workers in the Middle East. The process was strenuous and difficult. I was attempting to bring awareness to an issue that was not largely talked about in the academic literature. I wanted to talk about Filipinos, their religious beliefs, and specifically their experiences in the Middle East. I tried to take on so much because I wanted to prove to myself and to others that what I had to offer was significant. The whole thing made me really stressed out and overwhelmed. It was in this process I received the most poignant advice from one of my professors on my thesis committee.
She said, “Why do you got to be all Model Minority?” She was referring to the fact that I was trying essentialize my entire identity and academic career onto one piece of work – my undergraduate honors thesis. She told me, “Don’t try so hard to make this your defining work. The interests you have will take a lifetime to pursue and accomplish. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to answer all your life questions in one work.”
It was this conversation a few days before my thesis defense that made me realize how I had internalized a lot of expectations and pressures to be the “Model Minority.” All my life I had tried to live up to my own and others expectations of me to do something great. Though these things were not always blatantly obvious, I realized how much of my life had been a performance-driven activity of trying to do things to please others. In short, I had subconsciously become the one thing that I wanted to avoid being seen as - the Model Minority. However, it has been in the unique process of discovering my personal and cultural identity that I have gained more freedom. It has been out of this freedom that I have desired to give back to the Asian Pacific American community by recognizing and bringing change to the unique issues that surround our community.
One way that I have found freedom has been through artistic expression. There is something about art that provides a sense of freedom and vulnerability that allows people to see the deeper complexity and humanity of an individual. Specifically, writing spoken word has allowed me to break out of the formulaic confines that have typically defined me. So I want to share with you a piece that I wrote about my Filipino American experience. It is through these creative, artistic forms that I hope to advocate for issues in our community and provide a voice for those who typically have been unheard.
Spoken Word Piece:
“My Filipino American Identity”
(Living Under Expectation: Structure and Rhyme)
Archibald Macliesh once said, “Anything can make us look, but only art can make us see.”
So through this piece of artistic expression I offer you a glimpse of my Filipino American identity.
I lived and grew up in Roswell, UFO-ville, New Mexico.
Not the typical place you would expect to find a Filipino.
Growing up there, I just wanted to be one of the guys,
but instead, as I look back now I realize how I was blatantly racialized.
In high school, they called me niggapino. For what reasons? I don’t know.
It was there way of putting me in a box – because my complexity often came as a shock.
As I was categorized by my athletic ability combined with my intellectual capacity,
I soon began to internalize this myth of the Model Minority
I tried so hard to be the Best; I wanted to do something that would separate me from the rest.
I gave into the pressure of being the Top Academic; but instead, it just became a pandemic -
A disease that consumed all of me; I gave into this performance-based mentality.
The symptoms: overachiever and perfectionist;
If I didn’t get an “A” plus, I didn’t believe I was legitimate.
I was taken advantage because of my intellect;
People would be my friend so they could cheat off me
So I had to study hard on geometry and chemistry;
It was a world in which I constantly
Felt the pressure and expectation of being someone who wasn’t me.
So I came into college, with a vendetta to gain knowledge
I wanted yet again to prove myself and break out of the mold of those who came before me.
But I fueled yet again the stereotypes of the Model Minority.
I wanted to be a doctor and an engineer - but I soon found the harsh reality
that this line of work was not for me.
I realized that I was trying to force myself to do something I wasn’t passionate about.
o I gave up all those dreams to pursue the things that made me come alive.
When I chose Asian Pacific American Studies, I soon found out why.
s began to learn more about my cultural history and family legacy –
a part of me that I never knew existed was awakened – the revelation of my identity
(Finding Freedom: Free Verse/Free Style)
I found out that my grandfather was an educator in the Philippines – he planted schools for people to learn how to read. He had a great job working for the government, but he decided to give it all up to do something for which he was passionate.
He partnered with an American missionary and educator named Frank Laubach. Their dream was to teach the Marinao – a Filipino Muslim minority – how to read and write their own language. It was something that had never been done before – mostly because the Marinao were one of the most feared groups of people in the Philippines.
But my grandfather being a Filipino himself was able to establish strong relationships with the Muslim chiefs. Through these efforts, Laubach was able to learn the Marinao language and write it down for the first time. You might know Frank Laubach as an influential educator who formed the literacy program known as Each One Teach One. His methods went around the world and are credited with educating over 60 million people. He traveled to China, the Middle East, and worked with Mahatma Gandhi to form a literacy program to educate India.
But it wasn’t the efforts of Laubach alone who made this happen; rather, it was the humility and sacrifice of my grandfather. None of this would have happened without the ingenuity, creativity, and desire of the Marinao to teach one another how to read. They were the ones who saw literacy as a source of hope for social transformation that would eventually lead to worldwide impact. Because of this community, the world at large has learned how to read. And for this, they can thank people like my grandfather and the Marinao of the southern Philippines.
These histories are overlooked, but they are a unique part of who I am, and so I share them proudly. As I have learned about myself I have found freedom. I have realized that my very identity is found in the name of my people.
In Tagalog the term Pilipino actually speaks to my unique identity and the identity of my people. Pilipino. In Tagalog, “Pili” means chosen and “pino’ means fine. So the name “Pilipino” means chosen and fine. So I’m a Pilipino – chosen and fine. And I am American. These unique aspects put together are a part of who I am.
Pili Pino – Chose Fine people
(Bringing it back)
So I have found freedom in knowing who I am. Being stripped of expectations and pursuing my passions has allowed me to dive deep into my personal and cultural identity – breaking off the burdens of the Model Minority.
With that, I want to leave you with a quote that has most inspired me – a quote by Howard Thurman, an influential African American minister during the Civil Rights Movement. He said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
As Asian Pacific American graduates and as a community at large, it is time for us to be set free from the expectations and pressures that have defined us. It isn’t about what we do; it is about who we are. Pursue the dreams and passions on your heart. Most importantly, be you and let your heart come alive – that is what our community and the world at large is really searching for.